19.One instrument relating to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Steps) (England) Regulations 2021 (SI 2021/364), is drawn to the special attention of the House in this report (see paragraphs 8 to 18 above).
20.This instrument extends further, until 30 June 2021, the moratorium during which landlords of commercial properties may not evict tenants due to non-payment of rent. This follows an initial three-month moratorium until 30 June 2020, introduced by the Coronavirus Act 2020, and three subsequent extensions until 30 September 2020, 31 December 2020 and 31 March 2021. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) explains that the moratorium is not a rent holiday and tenants remain liable for payment of any rent arrears, and that this further extension is necessary as many businesses are continuing to struggle with rent payments, especially in the hospitality and other vulnerable sectors. Separately, the Ministry of Justice has increased to 18 months the amount of commercial rent arrears that must be outstanding before commercial rent arrears recovery may take place (see SI 2021/300 at paragraph 25).
21.The Government previously stated that there would be no extension beyond 31 March 2021, but MHCLG says that this was before the discovery of the new UK coronavirus variant and the national restrictions announced in January 2021. According to MHCLG, this further extension will allow time for the current restrictions to be relaxed and enable tenants to negotiate with their landlords with some certainty over their ability to trade and pay rent and accumulated rent arrears.
22.MHCLG says that while the impact of reduced rental income “is causing some financial distress among commercial landlords”, a Code of Practiceencourages businesses that can pay rent to do so. In addition, MHCLG points to the extension of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme until September 2021, new ‘Restart Grants’ of up to £18,000 for highly impacted businesses and the support that is available to businesses and the commercial real estate sector through the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme and the Coronavirus Corporate Financing Facility. These schemes provide lending through grants and government-backed loans and are available to landlords in distress. While we note the support that the Government have made available, the further extension of the moratorium raises the question whether a Code of Practice is sufficient to ensure that those commercial tenants which can pay rent will do so.
23.This instrument amends Schedule 29 to the Coronavirus Act 2020 which introduced emergency measures requiring residential landlords to provide extended notice periods of three months when seeking possession of either a social or privately rented property. These measures were introduced to protect tenants from eviction, by delaying when landlords could begin possession proceedings in recognition of the impact of the pandemic on tenants, the public health risk in relation to the spread of infection and the need to reduce pressure on public services. The original measures were brought into force until 30 September 2020 and subsequently extended until 31 March 2021, when the required notice period was also extended from three to six months in most cases. As some national restrictions in response to the pandemic will remain in place during spring, this instrument extends these measures until 31 May 2021.
24.The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government says that the instrument enables landlords to provide shorter notice periods for certain serious cases, for example cases involving anti-social behaviour, domestic abuse in the social sector or where a tenant has passed away, has no right to rent in the UK under immigration legislation or where there are rent arrears of more than six months.
25.These Regulations increase the minimum amount of net unpaid rent that must be outstanding before commercial rent arrears recovery (CRAR) may take place, to 457 days’ rent (15 months) where the enforcement action takes place on or before 23 June 2021, and to 554 days’ rent (18 months) where it takes place on or after 24 June 2021. The Ministry of Justice says that, given the continuing COVID-19 restrictions, there is a high risk that, without extension of the protections set out in section 82 of the Coronavirus Act 2020 beyond 31 March, businesses that would otherwise be viable would fold. The Explanatory Memorandum adds that the Government recognise that the impact of reduced rental income is causing some financial distress among commercial landlords, and are offering support through the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Schemes and the Coronavirus Corporate Financing Facility. (See also SI 2021/283 at paragraphs 20 to 22.)
26.These Regulations amend the International Travel Regulations to prohibit the arrival in England of aircraft from Ethiopia, Oman and Qatar. Arrivals from those countries are also added to the “red list”, in Schedule B1, requiring them to arrive at a designated port and enter managed quarantine. Conversely, due to improved infection data, Mauritius, the Azores, Portugal and Madeira are removed from the red list and the ban on the arrival of aircraft and vessels from those countries is removed.
27.The Regulations also exempt the following new groups from the duty to self-isolate in a managed facility if travelling to England:
28.This instrument makes changes to the support for living costs that is available for students in higher education. The Department for Education (DfE) explains that in line with public health guidance during the pandemic, most students stayed at home and did not return to term-time accommodation for the 2020/21 spring term. While the Government will review the options for the timing of the return of students to university by the end of the Easter holidays, some students may not have received their maintenance payments, depending on their term start dates, by the time this decision is made. Depending on the nature of that decision, that may mean that students who continue to live at home in line with public health guidance, would, under the current arrangements, only be entitled to the lower home rate of loan for living costs while also paying for accommodation near their university. This instrument therefore ensures that students who were living away from home but have now returned home in line with public health guidance continue to receive the higher London or outside London rates of loan for living costs for the summer term of the 2020/21 academic year, starting on 1 April.
29.This instrument sets the period from 1 April 2021 to 31 March 2022 as the new target period for public sector bodies to employ an average of at least 2.3% of their headcount staff in England as new apprentices. The Department for Education (DfE) says that the 2.3% target was introduced in 2017 to boost apprenticeships in the public sector. Specified public sector bodies with over 250 employees must have due regard to the target; the House of Lords and the House of Commons, and certain other public bodies, such as universities, are exempt. The first target period ran from 1 April 2017 to 31 March 2021. According to DfE, the new one-year target period reflects a one-year spending review settlement and is set at 2.3% of headcount in recognition of the current labour market conditions created by the pandemic.
30.Asked about the progress made in meeting the target, DfE told us that:
“Since its introduction, the public sector has achieved an average of 1.7% of starts against the target, and whilst this is less than the prescribed 2.3%, we have seen positive year on year increases in the number of apprentices hired within the public sector, with an average of 1.4% of employees starting an apprenticeship in 2017. The Civil Service had an average of 2.1% of their employee headcount as new apprentice starts in 2019-20, with some individual departments exceeding the target. There have also been individual public sector bodies who have exceeded the target, such as the armed forces who had an average of 7.9% of their headcount as apprenticeship starts.”
31.Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, claimants with health conditions or disabilities applying for Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (IIDB), Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), Personal Independent Payment (PIP) and Universal Credit (UC) were required to attend a face-to-face assessment. From March 2020, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) suspended all face-to-face assessments to safeguard claimants and staff, whilst exploring alternative methods of conducting health assessments by remote means. This instrument allows telephone and video channels to be used as additional methods of conducting health assessments for these purposes.
32.In additional material, DWP states that while these amendments do not mandate the use of telephone and video assessments, they allow them to be used if appropriate and ensure that the provisions are consistent across these benefits:
“The same expectations and appeal rights apply to all assessments, regardless of channel. This means failure to attend is being applied for telephone assessments as it would be for face-to-face assessments in business as usual conditions: claimants who do not attend are proactively contacted and a range of factors, including their physical and mental health, is taken into full consideration to determine if they have a good reason for not attending or participating.
Currently we are operating telephony assessment at scale across most of our benefits, a small number of video assessments have taken place to enable us to test and evaluate effectiveness, and face to face assessments remain suspended. No decisions have yet been taken on the appropriate channel mix once public health restrictions are lifted.”
33.This instrument extends two temporary Class 1 National Insurance contributions (NICs) disregards which were introduced for the 2020/21 tax year, so that they also apply for the 2021/22 tax year (6 April 2021 to 5 April 2022). First, the instrument ensures that, where an employer reimburses an employee for the cost of home office equipment to enable them to work from home as a result of the pandemic, there is no Class 1 NICs liability for either the employer, or the employee, during the 2021/22 tax year. Second, the instrument provides that, where an employer pays or reimburses an employee for the cost of a relevant coronavirus antigen test, there is no Class 1 NICs liability for either the employer or the employee during the 2021/22 tax year.
34.This instrument amends two earlier instruments to ensure that employers can continue to access support with the costs of paying eligible Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) to their employees. Specifically, it increases from 6 April 2021 the maximum SSP costs related to coronavirus that an employer can claim in respect of an individual employee to £192.70, which represents two weeks SSP at the uprated amount of £96.35. The instrument also increases the total maximum amount that an employer may claim to £192.70, multiplied by the number of employees enrolled in PAYE schemes by the employer on 28 February 2020.
35.These Regulations extend the temporary coronavirus uplift of £86.67 per month (equivalent to £20 per week) to the Universal Credit standard allowances for a further six months. This applies to those who are making a new claim or are already receiving Universal Credit. Provision has also been made to ensure that the calculation of any Transitional Protection that is awarded to a claimant as part of managed migration to Universal Credit from another benefit is not reduced because of the temporary uplift.
36.The Regulations also extend, for a further three months, the relaxation of the minimum income floor requirements for the self-employed. This enables self-employed claimants whose business activity is impacted by the COVID-19 restrictions to benefit from a full award of Universal Credit rather than having their benefit reduced by an assumed level of income.
37.This instrument amends the schedule of instalments for payments owed by major precepting authorities for the 2021/22 year, so that instead of 12 instalments, these authorities will only be required to make one payment to billing authorities in March 2022 in relation to their share of any deficit that arises from rates relief introduced during the pandemic. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) says that by March 2022 they will have received a central government grant with which to make the payment. The instrument also moves the deadline by which billing authorities must make and certify their end-year calculations for the rates retention scheme, from 31 July to 30 September for the financial years beginning in 2020 and 2021, following the Redmond Review into the effectiveness of external audit and transparency of financial reporting in local authorities.
38.In addition, the instrument ends, from 1 April 2021, the Tees Valley Additional Growth Pilot (AGP) which was created for an initial period of five years under the Tees Valley Devolution Deal. MHCLG told us that it was always intended that AGPs would be for a time limited period and that the English Devolution White Paper will consider future funding arrangements for Mayoral Combined Authorities. MHCLG says that a new special economic area with increased business rates retention will be put in place from 2021/22 in the Tees Valley authority of Redcar and Cleveland, allowing that authority and the Tees Valley Combined Authority to keep 100% of business rates growth in that area to support the long term regeneration of the defined economic area.
9 Business Tenancies (Protection from Forfeiture: Relevant Period) (Coronavirus) (England) Regulations 2020 (revoked) (, ( and (.
10 See: MHCLG, Code of practice for the commercial property sector (19 June 2020): [accessed 18 March 2021].
11 Coronavirus Act 2020 (Residential Tenancies: Protection from Eviction) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2020 ().
12 Health Protection (Coronavirus, International Travel) (England) Regulations 2020 ().
13 This includes government departments, local authorities, NHS Trusts, fire and police services and local-authority maintained schools.
14 Social Security Contributions (Disregarded Payments) (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020 () and Social Security Contributions (Disregarded Payments) (Coronavirus) (No. 2) Regulations 2020 ().
15 Statutory Sick Pay (Coronavirus) (Funding of Employers’ Liabilities) Regulations 2020 () and Statutory Sick Pay (Coronavirus) (Funding of Employers’ Liabilities) (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2020 ().
16 Precepting authorities are local authorities that do not collect council tax directly but instruct another local authority (the billing authority) to do it on their behalf.
17 Such as rates reliefs for the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors.
18 MHCLG, Local authority financial reporting and external audit: government response to the Redmond review (17 December 2020): [accessed 18 March 2021].